Scaling the “Wall of Worry”
Why digital editions really are the publishing industry's next great hope.
On Wall Street, it is often said that stocks must climb a “wall of worry” before they can reach new and sustainable highs. Unemployment, escalating interest rates, a poor housing market and deficit spending – these represent just a few of the worries in today’s investor landscape. But if history is any guide, the next bull market is right around the corner as investors scale the wall and reach new levels of value.
The magazine industry today faces its own wall of worry. The traditional world of print is in a slow but steady decline and advertising dollars continue to migrate from print magazines to television, web, social media and other non-traditional channels. However, just like Wall Street, the publishing industry has the means to overcome this wall of worry and deliver new value. Enter: digital editions.
We’re still in the very early days, but it is clear that magazine digital editions represent a massive growth opportunity for the entire industry. But as the opportunity becomes more tangible, it is equally clear that publishing industry executives must execute against some key value drivers.
Be the Master of Your “Data”:
The publishing industry must take the lead in defining the performance, engagement and consumer-based metrics that will drive the digital business and build value in magazine brands. What consumers are browsing, reading or sharing; when, where and on what device; and across which titles and categories – are just some of the data available. Maintaining control over this data is a critical factor in the long-term vitality of the industry and its premium advertising model. If access to data is limited by technology, distribution or other partners in the consumer value chain, our bright new digital future will most certainly dim.
Content is (Still) King:
The digital media world is full of free, on demand aggregator apps that scrape the web and deliver personalized streams of news and information 24 x 7. Many of these apps also serve as useful access points to the busy world of social media. However, it is important to remember that the foundation of a bright digital future for magazines is different; that future is founded on curated, authoritative content that people will pay for and is delivered to them by trusted brands. As such we must protect the value of our digital content and brands when considering our approach to such things as print/digital bundles, website paywalls and enhanced vs. transcribed editions.
The digital magazine platform can provide readers with multiple product and pricing choices for engaging with their favorite brands and content categories. Print/digital bundles and digital subscriptions are two areas of recent innovation. At Next Issue, we have introduced an “all-you-can-eat” unlimited access plan that allows readers and their families to access any of our magazine titles, including back issues, at any time, for one low monthly price. This type of offer also naturally leads to innovation around search, recommendations and personalization, which in turn, will deliver deeper reader engagement.
In many ways, the magazine industry faces a similar challenge that confronted the television industry over a decade ago with the introduction of TiVo. In that instance, for the first time, viewers and not programmers were in charge of their television viewing experience, and the industry had to adapt. And from a data reporting perspective, not only did we learn what programming and advertising were actually viewed in TiVo households, but we also knew exactly when it was viewed; for how long; and if it was skipped, rewound, liked or disliked.
Since that time and despite dire predictions to the contrary, the television industry successfully adapted to these and other technology changes to grow bigger and more profitable today. With leadership, commitment and alacrity, there is no reason why the magazine industry cannot duplicate this success and achieve its own greatness in the digital realm.
So let’s climb our own wall of worry to a bigger and better future – as an industry we can do this!
Morgan P. Guenther is President and CEO of Next Issue Media, the digital publishing initiative of Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corporation and Time Inc. Joining the venture in June 2010, he brings deep entrepreneurial, management, legal and deal-making experience in the technology, wireless and digital media industries, where he headed and advised innovative companies rooted in Silicon Valley.